What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God…”
–Romans 3:9-11 (NASB)
There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin.
Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”
In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.
In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.
When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.
Today I shall…
…be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”
Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.
–Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)
Last night I met with Pastor Randy for the first time in several weeks. He has been away in Southern California as part of his Ph.D program and just returned late last week. Prior to our meeting, he sent me two PDFs as email attachments, one was a chart he had drawn as a graphic representation all the covenants, and the other was a text description of the covenants. I have to admit, I was intimidated. He was responding to something I had blogged earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
In response and to prepare for the meeting, I sent him a link to my blog post Abraham, Jews, and Christians, since I suspected we’d be discussing the differences between how Jews and Christians are connected by covenant to God and specifically why I believe that the Torah, the conditions pertaining to the Sinai covenant, still apply to the Jewish people today.
I hadn’t slept well the night before, so I was running on three hours rest and as much chutzpah as I could summon. All I wanted to do was to go to bed (our meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., so as you can imagine, I must have been really tired), but I wanted to have this meeting, too. Armed with my hardcopy printouts and my Bible, I went to church.
Actually, it was a blast. I had a great time. When we started talking, I forgot completely about being tired. Pastor gifted me with Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, which I’ll start as soon as I finish the Septuagint book. I suspect Schreiner’s book is going to be a “challenge” to me, but that’s almost always a good way to learn. During our conversation, he suggested half a dozen other books for me, which I’m not going to reference here, so I suspect my reading list has been reserved for the next few months.
We actually agreed on most of the details of the covenant connection Christians have through Abraham and why that results in the Gentile church “bypassing” the Sinai covenant, but following a series of links from Abraham, to the New Covenant, to the “Last Supper,” to Paul’s commentary on Abraham in Galatians 3:16. The only link we Christians have through the Abrahamic covenant is stated in Genesis 12:1-3 which is the Messianic blessing on all the peoples of the earth. This was stated before the portion of the covenant requiring circumcision (which links the rest of the Abrahamic covenant directly through Isaac, through Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons, the Patriarchs, and then the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately the Jewish people).
Where we disagreed was familiar territory: the duration of the Sinai covenant. Pastor believes that it should have ended at the cross with a “transitionary period” lasting until the close of the Biblical canon. My opinion is that it extends much further, well past our current age and through the Messianic Era, finally terminating at what we could consider “the end of time” as we understand it.
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
–Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)
As long as there’s a Temple in Jerusalem or the promise that it will be rebuilt (which we have in the promise of Messiah’s return), then the Torah cannot pass away from existence and neither can Israel and the Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:35-36, Matthew 5:17-19). The best one can say is that certain portions (the Laws pertaining to the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and certain other ordinances regarding the Land of Israel itself) go into abeyance, a state of being temporarily set aside. When Hebrews 8:13 talks about the “Old Covenant” passing away, it describes the process of currently passing away, not having already passed away. I just happen to think that “passing away” process doesn’t end until the coming of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10).
We also agreed on one thing that will make a lot of Christians a little nervous. We agreed that the New Covenant isn’t yet a “done deal.” In other words, not all the work was finished “on the cross.”
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
–Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)
Pastor used another term, but the way I see it, God’s finger is still in the process of writing the Law within us and on our hearts. If He had already finished it with the first coming of Messiah, we would all “Know the Lord” and we don’t yet. The moving finger has not yet “writ” and thus has yet to move on. Link the still writing finger of Jeremiah 31 with the slowly passing away of the Old Covenant in Hebrews 8:13 and I think you’ll see the Torah as it currently exists will be with us for quite some time.
We still went ’round a bit on the purpose and reason for the Law and finally agreed that how it is applied is largely situational (which I mentioned a few days ago). Pastor again tried to tell me that the Torah was given to show the Israelites that it was too hard for anyone to obey His Law and that they needed Messiah. I pointed to Deuteronomy 30, and he replied, Romans 4. I pointed out that one part of the Bible doesn’t cancel another and that only certain parts of Torah have been temporarily set aside as I mentioned above. I also referred back to Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 to illustrate that the Israelites didn’t experience Torah as a burden or a hardship but instead, their foremost joy.
He says the Torah does not provide salvation. I know that and I agree. It never did. When Israel violated the conditions of Torah they were ultimately exiled. And they were ultimately called back to God and restored to their Land. Why? Because of God’s love and grace. He never let them go. In that, we Christians are no different, though the nations are not corporately linked to God as is Israel. When we are disobedient, we are not abandoned but instead disciplined. When we become humbled and cry out, God brings us back, even as He has Israel. The Torah doesn’t save. It works as a specific set of conditions indicating the Jewish people are set aside for God, and the conditions apply to them alone on top of the obligations Torah applies to we Gentile believers.
Like I said in the quotes above, no one is righteous, no not even one. The Torah doesn’t confer righteousness, only our faith and God’s grace does that.
I don’t think he’s convinced, but I did the best I could to illuminate my end of the conversation. Part of the problem is Pastor’s perception of “Rabbinic Judaism,” but right then, I was only trying to show that during New Testament times, Torah continued to apply and the Torah moves forward across history. I didn’t want to even comment about the post-Biblical Rabbinic period until I created a bridge that started at Sinai and moved past the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascendance, with the Torah moving across that bridge and forward, spanning the history of the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t just observe the Law because he was born on the “wrong side of the cross,” he did so because that’s the obligation and the joy for all Jews under covenant. His death didn’t change that.
Boaz Michael puts things is proper perspective, I think:
This may sound counterintuitive to many, but the gospel—the story of Jesus’ first coming, his earthly life, his death and resurrection—is not the fulfillment or even the climax of Israel’s story. It does not complete or resolve the narrative that begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. It does not fulfill God’s promises to David in the books of the early prophets. It does not fulfill the promises of the later prophets concerning Israel’s final destiny. It does not even fulfill the Torah itself, in which God promises certain things to his people Israel after their return from exile.
The completion or resolution of Israel’s story does not and will not occur until she is redeemed from her exile, planted firmly in the land God has promised to her, and returned to a state of loving obedience to the Torah under the leadership of the Son of David, Yeshua the Messiah.
I mentioned the example of 19th century Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein who came to faith in Yeshua past the age of sixty; a person who was wholly Jewish before and after coming to Messianic faith who found that Torah was illuminated, expanded, and possessed of great joy by the Messiah. When Messiah “fulfills” the Torah, it doesn’t end, but it is shown to be truly perfect in Moshiach! Observance goes on for the Jewish believers, but it is Torah observance with much greater meaning, something that as a Gentile Christian, I can hardly even imagine.
Pastor surprised me a bit. My opinion has been that the population of Jews in Messiah dwindled more or less steadily past the Biblical period and finally extinguished completely sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries CE, and then finding a slow resurgence in the past several centuries.
Pastor contradicted me and said he believes that across the past two-thousand years, there has always been a remnant of Messianic Jews. I’d love to believe that but I need to see some evidence. He pointed me to a book called Our Jewish Friends by Louis Goldberg, which I’ll certainly have to read to see the validity of such a claim and how it could possibly be substantiated. Does Goldberg mean Jewish converts to Christianity? To me that’s not the same thing as people who live fully Jewish lives realized in Messiah. Now that would be a thrill to discover.
In many ways, last night’s talk was one of our most productive conversations, at least for me. We won’t be able to meet again for another couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to it. I mentioned to Pastor that the following day’s “meditation” would be called On Being a Good Christian and was based on his sermon from last Sunday. That led to my angst on ever being able to officially join a local church and the dilemma of “denominationalism” for me. We know that Paul frowned on such divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) but he told me (surprising me again) that we can’t anachronistically apply Paul to our modern church.
We agreed that at the heart of all disciples in Messiah, we must all contain a set of core beliefs, without which, we cannot call ourselves “Christians” (which in this case, would include “Messianics”). Beyond that, denominations provide additional dimensions based on social, cultural, and sometimes even ethnic similarities. I had a brief epiphany and said that denominations were not unlike the evolution of the different streams of ancient and modern Judaism including the addition of elements of culture and tradition. I don’t think Pastor expected that comparison and hopefully it will be food for thought in subsequent conversations.
But since I opened the door, our next conversation in two weeks will be on the differences in Christian denominations. I actually need this since my grasp on the topic is extremely weak. I don’t know if I’m learning to be a better Christian, but I hope I’m growing and learning to be a better child of God.
Blessings on my Pastor for his patience, his intelligence, his passion, and his friendship.